Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Ride ‘really, really rough’

Ride 'really, really rough'

Superferry sails, but voyage not smooth; many suffer sickness
   MAUI NEWS         Tuesday,  April 8, 2008
CLAUDINE SAN NICOLAS, Staff Writer   claudine@mauinews.com
KAHULUI — After a two-month layoff for repairs, the Hawaii Superferry returned to Kahului Harbor on Monday with a load of passengers facing no protests except the one in their bellies.

"It was one of the most miserable rides I've ever had," said Kim Lane of Seattle.

She and other family members were part of the first set of passengers disembarking from the 350-foot Alakai after it arrived at Kahului. They said they dealt with high swells and rough seas for most of the three-hour-plus sail between Oahu and Maui. Those conditions caused many passengers to fall ill.

Terry O'Halloran, Superferry director of business development, disputed the report of many passengers being severely ill on the voyage, although he admitted the Honolulu-Kahului leg was rough.

He said it had been a good voyage. The vessel was bounced by swells and strong trade winds in the channels between islands, but it was "much calmer" on the downwind Kahului-Honolulu return trip.

Passengers arriving in Kahului said many of them were puking during the ride.

"The crew was really trying to keep things clean, but there were vomit bags all over the place," said passenger Monica Bishop in describing her ferry ride.

"You open the bathroom door and there's puke on the sink," said Brian Driscoll, a ferry rider from Fargo, N.D., who said he was among those who avoided illness.

"There were sick people all over the place," he said.

Lane quickly added that Superferry crew members were friendly and cheerful, despite showing signs of seasickness themselves.

"It was really, really rough. . . . It was so bad you thought you were going to fall out of your chairs," said Bishop, who rode the ferry with her husband, Doug, and four children. The family plans to move from Oahu to Maui and decided to use the next week and a half looking for a place to live on the Valley Isle.

Immediately after coming ashore, a Bishop son declared he would not return to Oahu on the ferry. He eventually relented after his father, a former sailor, agreed to ride it again despite Monday's bumpy sail.

"They're going to ride it again for redemption," Monica Bishop joked.

The Bishops noted they had paid a "little extra" to ride at the front of the ferry, hoping for a smooth sail. "Instead you paid extra to get a little sick," Doug Bishop said.

The Alakai went out of service Feb. 13 and into dry dock for repair of auxiliary steering rudders that had developed cracks where the rudder posts enter the hull.

The repairs were prolonged when a tug damaged the ferry's hull while aiding it into dry dock, and again when the ferry was damaged in the dock.

O'Halloran declined to describe what happened in dry dock, but said Monday, "It all got repaired. It's in great shape."

Late last week, the Superferry announced it would renew its voyages to Maui, extending a special $39 one-way passenger fare and $55 one-way vehicle fare for travel through June 5. The ferry departs Honolulu at 6:30 a.m., arriving at 10:15 a.m. in Kahului. It departs Kahului at 11:15 a.m., with a 2:15 p.m. scheduled arrival at Honolulu Harbor.

O'Halloran said Monday's load of vehicles and passengers was expected to be light as it returned to an interisland travel market in turmoil following the failure of Aloha Airlines a week ago.

"Reservations are open through the first week in January," he said.

He would not reveal passenger numbers but said he met a number of people taking advantage of the ferry's ability to carry vehicles, including a Maui woman who was purchasing a car on Oahu and an Oahu resident who expected to buy a used car on Maui.

The Bishops' 16-year-old son, Greg, said he looked forward to a return voyage in a week or so.

"I thought it was fun, and I'd ride again," he said.

When the Superferry first launched last August, it was greeted at the Kahului Harbor with protesters waving handmade signs. Demonstrators criticized the state's decision to allow the operation without an environmental impact statement and claimed the vessel presented a threat to whales.

Monday saw neither signs nor protesters.

Irene Bowie, executive director of the Maui Tomorrow Foundation, showed up for the ferry arrival mostly out of curiosity.

Bowie said she was surprised to see the Coast Guard accompanying the Superferry into the harbor given the lack of protesters.

"All of this at a cost to taxpayers," she said. "I think it's either overkill or paranoia."

A Coast Guard spokesman confirmed that the federal agency had sent out an 87-foot patrol boat and a 25-foot rigid-hull vessel to accompany the ferry into the harbor starting from about a mile offshore.

"This is a very common occurrence for the Coast Guard," said Petty Officer Michael De Nyse.

When Superferry resumed service in November, the Coast Guard declared a security zone over virtually all of Kahului Harbor, but eased the restriction to a 100-yard standoff distance after a week of operations.

De Nyse said he could not comment directly in response to Bowie's criticism that the Coast Guard presence Monday was excessive. He did say the agency's actions were a means of ensuring safety of the ferry, its passengers and individuals who might be in the water when the Alakai sailed into harbor.

Maui's protest of the Superferry mostly has been held on Kahului streets and in the Wailuku courts.

Hawaii Superferry still has not announced any plans to resume sailing to Kauai, where service was suspended because of protests at Nawiliwili Harbor.

On Monday, retirees Francine and Gaudie Bugtong came to the Kahului shore to welcome the Superferry. Gaudie Bugtong took photos of the ferry with his cell-phone camera.

"Someday I like to try to ride," he said.

Francine Bugtong said she was curious about the fuss over the ferry and wanted to take a closer look.

"For me, it's interesting and it's nice. I'd like to ride it someday too."

Sonny Kaupe of Kahului happened to be shoreline fishing with granddaughters Shanice, Macie and Destiny when the ferry arrived. "As long as I can come out here and fish, I'm OK with it," Kaupe said.

Texas visitor Bertha White was enjoying the Kahului ocean view before heading to Lahaina.

"I think it's a great idea to have this here," she said. "It's worked in the northeast of the United States, and I don't think there'll be a problem here."

Bowie said her group and others will continue to fight the Superferry's presence in Hawaii. Maui Tomorrow, the Sierra Club and the Kahului Harbor Coalition were plaintiffs in a 2004 civil suit that went to the Hawaii Supreme Court. The high court issued an Aug. 23 decision requiring the state Department of Transportation to prepare an environmental assessment on $40 million worth of harbor improvements needed to accommodate the ferry operations.

The day after the Supreme Court ruling, Hawaii Superferry announced it would initiate service to Maui and Kauai on Aug. 26, offering a $5 fare special. On Maui, 2nd Circuit Judge Joseph Cardoza issued a restraining order Aug. 27 and later issued an injunction blocking ferry operations until the state Transportation Department could prepare an environmental assessment.

On Kauai, protesters in the water prevented the Alakai from entering Nawiliwili Harbor on Aug. 27, and Superferry ceased its operations to both islands.

When Cardoza ruled the ferry could not operate until an environmental assessment was completed, Gov. Linda Lingle called a special session of the state Legislature to approve a law to allow the Superferry to operate while the Transportation Department prepares an environmental impact statement.

Bowie said the citizens groups are concerned about the potential for ferry passengers and their vehicles spread to invasive alien plants and bugs; for the high-speed ferry striking humpback whales; and for disembarking vehicles increasing congestion. In a separate case, Maui Tomorrow and the Kahului Harbor Coalition won a court order requiring the state to monitor traffic flows when the ferry is in port.

The community organizations claim that the new state law allowing the ferry to operate while an EIS is prepared is unconstitutional.

"All the issues remain," Bowie said.

• Staff Writer Harry Eager contributed to this story. Claudine San Nicolas can be reached at

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